The ConfessionJuly 20, 2012
Here’s an odd little Mary Roberts Rinehart mystery for you: The Confession. There are a lot of familiar elements here — a middle-aged spinster who has raised a niece and nephew, her alternately loyal and mutinous servant, a house rented for the summer — but it’s not The Circular Staircase and it’s not The Bat*. Nor is it as much of a mess as either of those, probably because it’s a lot shorter. The Confession only has about five chapters, at least one of which is primarily composed of Miss Agnes Blakiston’s ramblings about fear. Which is cool, actually. Both the brevity and the rambling, I mean. The lack of length means Rinehart can’t do the overwhelming, 31 flavors of plot thing she likes so much, and the rambling , combined with Rinehart’s head over heels adoration of foreshadowing makes things feel — well, not scary, I guess, but very tense. Kind of like The After House. And, as with The After House, the psychological horror thing mostly works, at least for a while.
I could explain how Agnes Blakiston comes to be in the house for the summer, and why she develops an obsession with the telephone, and I could talk about the suspicious behavior of the owner of the house, and the strangely protective attitude of the telephone operator, and how the solution to the mystery is a little bit silly, as with most of Rinehart’s books, but those things are kind of beside the point, except maybe for the telephone thing. This is the rare Rinehart mystery that makes you think about things like hallucinations and unreliable narrators, and it’s kind of a lot of fun.
* I’m well aware that The Bat is an adaptation of The Circular Staircase, but there’s a lot in The Bat that’s not in The Circular Staircase and a lot more in The Circular Staircase that’s not in The Bat.